Emerson Lake and Palmer – Pictures At An Exhibition

Emerson Lake and Palmer’s masterpiece, “Pictures at an Exhibition” was proof that almost anything could go with rock and roll in the early seventies.  Performed live in 1971, the concert album combined arrangements from Russian composer Modest Muskorky’s 1874 classical score, which Keith Emerson had seen performed traditionally many years earlier with other related songs written by the band. Keith Emerson had seen  a traditional performance of Muskorky’s peice many years earlier and became stoked to have Emerson Lake and Palmer record an adaptation of it.  The album hit number 10 on the US charts and went up to number 3 in the UK.

Like many in the US, the first song I ever heard off of “Pictures at an Exhibition” was “Nutrocker”, a song combining an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite with progressive rock. It was released as a single in the United States only. The song was performed as the encore to the concert. I remember my elementary school music teacher playing “Nutrocker” for us in class one day. I was familiar with The Nutcracker Suite and was absolutely enthralled by this variation of its music.

B. B. King – Live At The Regal

It was on a cold night on November 21, 1964, in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, when B. B. King recorded one of the most highly regarded blues albums of all time.

There’s a reason B. B. King is a blues legend. To know that reason, all you need to do is listen to “Live at The Regal”. The blues is meant to be more than just listened to; it’s music that needs to be felt. That cold November night at The Regal Theatre, B. B. King felt it and just as importantly, the audience felt it. Then again when I listen to B. B. King’s distinct voice and guitar, the real question I have to ask with “Live at the Regal” on the turntable is “how could you not?”

Lynyrd Skynyrd – One More From The Road

Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t create Southern rock. They didn’t reinvent it. But in the seventies, Lynyrd Skynyrd was one of the select few who defined the genre. When it was released in 1976, “One More for from the Road” became the quintessential live southern rock album.

Prior to the recording of this masterpiece, Skynyrd had added Oakie guitarist Steve Gaines into their fold, solidifying the band’s signature three lead sound. His influence is most noted on the 13 plus minute closing track “Free Bird” where the band’s three guitarists trade off solos in what has become one of the most legendary live performances ever captured on any recording.

“What song is it you wanna hear?”

Santana

The band Santana, named after latin rock legend Carlos Santana released their debut album in 1969, a couple of weeks after they played an unforgettable set at the original Woodstock music festival. That incredible performance showcased the band’s freeform jam band style that helped this record shoot up to the number four position on the Billboard charts shortly after its release. That despite receiving mostly negative reviews from music critics. Rolling Stone, perhaps the most influential music publication back then, said the album showcased “hollow technique” and had “no real content”. Meh, what do they know? Decades later, in 2003, they would give Santana’s eponymous debut accolades, describing it as “thrilling” and ranking it as the 150th greatest album of all time.

In their early days, Santana was first and foremost, a jam band. Much like freeform jazz musicians are masters of improvisation, Santana focused on playing by feel, never performing a song the same way twice. That’s why even though they were relatively unknown when they took the stage at Woodstock, everyone remembered them long after they triumphantly walked off it. It is that jam band mastery of musical improvisation that shines through on this record; something hard to pull off in the studio…unless you’re really good. And from the very beginning, Carlos Santana and his namesake band proved they were among the best.

Muse – Simulation Theory (super deluxe edition)

When Muse comes out with a new album, I never fully know what to expect, except I expect it to be totally awesome. With that, “Simulation Theory”, the eighth album from Muse, is exactly what I expected.

Like Muse’s last few albums, “Simulation Theory” is more than just a collection of songs; there is a theme wrapped around all of them. This time though, the trio steps back a bit from the seriousness of “The Second Law” and “The Resistance”, instead diving into a
science fiction virtual reality world. But that’s not to say there aren’t also underlying sociopolitical statements. This is Muse I’m talking about after all.

I pre-ordered the super deluxe edition of “Simulation Theory” because from what I had already heard from the singles released on the Internet, I knew I was going to like it. It was packaged as a double album with basically, an alternate version of the album on a second record and both records on CDs. It also came with free pre-release digital downloads for some of the songs. I would have gladly paid the price for this just for the two records alone. The album artwork designed by “Stranger Things” artist Kyle Lambert fits the sci-fi theme of the album perfectly, as does the heavy use of synthesizers and electronics in the music.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, it also came with pre-release access to tickets for their upcoming concerts. I have seen Muse live twice already and look forward to seeing them again. Those two shows rank among the most amazing concerts I have been to, ranking right up there with Rodger Waters performing The Wall, Pink Floyd, and TSO.

My favorite song on the original album is probably “Break It to Me” with its strange chord bends on the guitar. My favorites on the bonus record are tied between the gospel version of “Dig Down” and the live version of “Pressure” performed with the UCLA Bruin Marching Band. I thought the latter was such an odd combination when I read it in the credits, I didn’t know what to expect. But it was awesome. Exactly what I expect from Muse.

George Thorogood And The Destroyers – Maverick

No surprises here. With George Thorogood and the Destroyers, you know exactly what to expect – old school blues rock. Music to party to. Listening to 1982’s Maverick, I’m surprised that I have never seen these guys live. I have to imagine it would be a wild and crazy scene with people dancing in their seats and in the aisles, singing along to the songs.

Starting out in the ’70s, Thorogood’s band was originally called the Delaware Destroyers because, you guessed it, they came from Delaware; Boston to be exact. During that time, right into the ’80s, George Thorogood and the Destroyers were one of the hardest touring bands ever. As if to drive that point home, in 1982 they did their 50/50 tour – all 50 states in the US in 50 days.

In 1970, Thorogood gave up his career in minor league baseball and never looked back. He has recorded 20 albums and sold over 15 million. He is still recording his style of boogie party rock today, releasing “Party of One”, his first album without The Destroyers, in 2017. He last toured in 2018. I’m hoping there will be a 2019 tour as well. I still can’t believe I haven’t seen him live.

Joe Walsh – You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind

Joe Walsh’s 1976 live album, “You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind” was one for the fans – a live memento of Joe Walsh’s past hits with a hint of what was to come.

With five jamming renditions of Joe Walsh’s biggest hits, this album really couldn’t miss. Add to that, Joes extended solos as well as the solos from his top-notch band, which included Eagles member Don Felder on a second guitar, and you get an album that’s meant to be cranked up.

And speaking of the Eagles, for some perfect vocal harmonies on “Help Me Through the Night, Joe is joined by two other members of that band; Don Henley, Glen Frey. The crowd loved it. Apparently Joe Walsh did too. He joined the Eagles shortly after “You Can’t Argue With A Sick Mind” was released.

Scandal featuring Patty Smyth – Warrior

Did you know that Patty Smyth almost became the lead singer for Van Halen, following David Lee Roth’s ouster?

True story.

I saw Scandal open up a Hall and Oats concert in Wisconsin back in 1983 and even though their set was short – they only had a 5 song EP out at the time – they impressed the hell out of me. Except for the much shorter stage time, they totally blew Hall and Oats away that night. I bought Scandal’s debut EP a day or two later and eagerly awaited their upcoming full length LP.

When “Warrior” came out the following year I was not disappointed – it was great power-pop rock. Maybe a bit more polished than their EP, but not too much. What worried me though, was the band’s name on the album cover. It was no longer just Scandal, it had become Scandal featuring Patty Smyth. It’s never a good sign when one person becomes too much of a focal point in a band. I couldn’t help but wonder if this would be the first and last full album by Scandal.

It was.

Shortly after Scandal fell apart, Eddie Van Halen asked Patty Smyth to take over the vocals spot in his and his brother’s namesake band. She turned it down. I read that it was mainly because she was pregnant, but also because of Van Halen’s reputation for heavy drinking and in-fighting. I had mixed feelings when I first heard that Smyth had been asked; it seemed like an odd fit musically. Then again I remember the energy Patty Smyth exhumed when I saw Scandal live. She was a madwoman on stage. In front of an audience, it would’ve been incredible. Of course, in the end, Sammy Hagar would end up fronting Van Halen instead.

Patty Smyth released her first of two solo albums a few years later. They were both modestly successful.

Sammy Hagar and Van Halen had huge success together for a little over a decade before they parted ways. As far as I know, Patty never got a call after he left Van Halen.

The Tragically Hip – World Container

It never ceases to amaze me how a band can be so immensely popular in one country and right across the national border…virtually nothing. Such was the fate of The Tragically Hip.

In Canada, The Hip sold out arenas, topped the Canadian record charts with nine of their 13 albums, won 16 Juno awards – the Canadian equivalent of an American Grammy, and were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005. Yet across the border, in the United States, most people have never heard of The Tragically Hip.

I don’t get it.

This is a band that in their 33 year musical career, released 13 albums and every one of them kicked ass. Not a dud in the lot. Not even close.

Canadian rockers got The Hip. Americans never really did. I remember seeing them live at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1999. Over 20 thousand seats filled. I remember thinking “Wow! Maybe at least Detroit gets what The Hip were all about.

Then I noticed all the shirts and banners with red maple leafs on them. I bet over 15 thousand Canadians crossed the Detroit/Windsor border that day just to see The Tragically Hip play.

And for that day, I too was a Canadian rocker.

Well, at least for a couple of hours.

The Patti Smith Group – Easter

The Patti Smith Group may sound to some like an odd opening act for Bob Seger, but in early 1977 it kind of made sense, with her trying to without compromise, broaden her sound to a more mainstream audience. Unfortunately, Patti Smith broke her neck and nearly died during the second show of that tour. She fortunately recovered, but would have to wait until her next album, “Easter”, and for a little help from Bruce Springsteen to find that no-compromise crossover success.

It was January 26 when Patti Smith tripped over a stage monitor, plunging 15 feet onto a concrete floor in the orchestra pit at the front of the Tampa Florida stage. She cracked two vertebrae and had to get over 20 stitches to her head and face after the fall. The incident took her out of action for almost a year. I’m surprised it wasn’t longer.

After therapy following her neck surgery after the accident, Patti Smith and her group returned to the studio to record her third album “Easter”. Although the songs were a diverse mix between punk and mainstream rock, there was no potential that Smith’s record label felt were a breakthrough single. That is, until the album’s producer, Jimmy Iovine, turned Smith on to a song Bruce Springsteen had written but thrown away; a song that both Smith and her label found common ground on.

“Because the Night” became the no-compromise crossover that both Patti Smith and her record label were looking for. The song became the group’s biggest hit. “Easter” became The Patti Smith Group’s best-selling album.